Big Sky, MT
For serious skiers, a trip with the family poses one big problem — the beginner runs are clustered together on lousy terrain at the bottom of the mountain. The result: Skiing with kids means sacrificing good skiing.
Big Sky requires no such sacrifice. The runs here tend to be intermingled, so while you're challenging yourself on ungroomed terrain or in a glade of trees, your kids can be snowplowing on wide-open groomers, an easy traverse away. What's more, because Big Sky has fewer skiers per acre than any mountain its size, you won't lose track of each other in the process. "All that space gives kids confidence," says Brian Hurlbut, 44, a snowboard instructor and father of two. "Plus, as a parent you don't have to be worried about finding your kids." Factor in two outstanding ski schools and the fact that kids under 10 ski free if you're staying on the mountain (It's six and under at Jackson Hole and five and under at Vail), and Big Sky may be the most family-friendly resort anywhere.
In 2013, Big Sky — which is located about an hour south of Bozeman — acquired neighboring Moonlight Basin, creating one of the largest resorts in North America, with 29 lifts and 5,800 skiable acres, about half of which are beginner or intermediate. "Lift lines are almost nonexistent," says Dave Stergar, a middle-school teacher who lives down the road in Helena and has been skiing Big Sky for 25 years. "On a busy day at other resorts, you may get five or six runs in a day. Here you get 20."
With 4,350 feet of vertical drop, it easily holds its own against monsters like nearby Jackson Hole. The resort is built around 11,166-foot-high Lone Peak, an impressive fortress of cliffs, chutes, and glades that will test anyone. Its signature run, Big Couloir, is a 55-degree pitch down the side of the bowl and in full sight of the main quad lift. For hardcore parents, it offers a real challenge; for their kids, it's something to marvel at while they're learning.
At the end of the day, there's a kid's club open from four to six, so you can enjoy some après-ski time, child free. There's not much nightlife in Big Sky, so Hurlbut recommends taking a trip six miles to Meadow Village, where most locals live. "It gives you a better feel of Big Sky," he says. At Choppers Pub and Grub, kids run wild in a huge room full of old-school arcade games, shuffleboard, and pool tables. A few miles farther toward Gallatin Canyon, you'll find authentic guest ranches and steakhouses. Just be careful — a trip to Big Sky has been known to make kids decide they want to be western ski bums when they grow up.
Best For: The family trip.